A new initiative to encourage and support the take up of robotics technology within industry across Europe is being launched at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL) today, Wednesday 26 November.
The Robotics Innovation Facility (RIF) based at BRL is part of the ECHORD++ project, a €20 million initiative funded by the 7th Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development. There are three RIFs in Europe. The Bristol RIF is the lead institution - the other two RIFs are based at SSSA in Pisa, Italy, and CEA in Paris, France.
The Bristol RIF aims to stimulate the interaction between robot manufacturers, researchers, and end users, by providing free access to robotics equipment and experts. Technical support is provided by a dedicated RIF team, with additional assistance from engineers and scientists within Bristol Robotics Laboratory, a collaboration between the University of Bristol and UWE Bristol.
The RIF is a gateway for business, especially SME's, to help them work with new robotic technologies; develop markets for new robotic products, services or processes; demonstrate proof of concept in novel robot application areas; and develop new value chains in existing and emerging sectors.
Farid Dailami, who heads the Bristol RIF, said: “SMEs, other businesses and manufacturers can sometimes find it difficult to access the latest technology, and understand the potential of robotics and how future deployment could help their business. For example, companies frequently have a product or process idea or improvement but can't take it to the next stage within their current capabilities.
“A company may hear that an expensive robot could help their production capacity, but they are unable to access the equipment or software that would allow them to verify this before investing significant time and money in a new system. Through the RIF we would be able to carry out the necessary experiments and modelling to help them understand possibilities, and resource permitting, support them in getting extra funding to continue development. We can also introduce companies to national and Europe-wide networks beneficial to the development of their innovation and ideas.
“In the first instance companies get in touch with us and through an application process we learn more about what they are trying to do. If the company is eligible, and once we are clear what the problem is and how we can help, we set up a meeting and take the process forward. We are also offering a series of workshops which will help participants to develop their understanding of this field and the potential of robotics to enhance their business.”
Stuart Cochrane, Manufacturing Manager for Numatic International, based in Chard, Somerset, who make the world famous Henry vacuum cleaner, explained how the company have benefited from working with the RIF: “At Numatic our product variety and batch sizes do not make automated solutions for production easily achievable. After an initial visit to the facilities at Bristol we identified opportunities for applying what we saw to our working environment. The RIF has helped us to evaluate appropriate solutions for our business and we have expanded our knowledge base through attending short courses on automation theory and practice. This process has enabled us to trial the effectiveness of automation on components that were not originally designed for this.
“Working with the RIF has also enabled us to explore opportunities to use automation to help staff in the assembly process that would allow us to maintain and enhance their capabilities throughout their working careers. Our relationship with the RIF will continue with a Knowledge Transfer Partnership aimed at enhancing Numatic’s current internal capabilities and allowing us to engage more effectively with our chosen subcontractors. We are very excited by the potential benefits that our relationship with the RIF will bring to our business.”
Professor Chris Melhuish, Director of the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, said: “BRL is leading the way in Europe in this project, providing a service that bridges the gap between industry and the latest research in robotics. At BRL we are committed to research that that has a positive impact on society, industry and the economy. The RIF is an opportunity for us to share the latest innovations in robotics and support existing and new businesses in an ever increasing competitive economy.”